New powers did not amount to more surveillance in 2018

Under a legal amendment, the intelligence service can bug private property and phone lines as well as wiretap computers under certain conditions. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

The use of special surveillance measures by Swiss prosecutors and the secret service did not increase last year, despite the introduction of new powers that allow the authorities to bug mobile phones and hack computers.

SDA-Keystone/sb

Electronic and telecoms surveillance were used to monitor around 1.5% of all criminal offences committed last year, the Swiss Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service (PTSS) reported on Tuesday.

The overall figures are roughly similar to 2017. This is despite the introduction in March 2018 of new surveillance powers voted by the Swiss public in 2016. Under a legal amendment, the intelligence service can bug private property and phone lines as well as wiretap computers under certain conditions.

The authorities said their so-called “IMSI catcher”, used to listen in to mobile phone conversations, had been deployed 84 times last year – almost half in drug trafficking cases. However, “Govware” spyware was not used.

“The number of IMSI catchers deployed will probably remain relatively stable,” said Fabien Gasser, president of the Swiss Prosecutors’ Conference. Such devices are controversial as they also interfere with the mobile communications of people in the vicinity when used to monitor a suspect.

Conventional surveillance techniques – listening to telephone conversations, reading email messages and studying telephone records - were stable last year, the service said. In 2018, the overall number of traditional surveillance measures remained stable at 7,950.

The Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), meanwhile, ordered a total of 422 surveillance measures from the PTSS last year, it said, without giving any details.

Last year, the PTSS surveillance services cost federal prosecution authorities and the FIS a total of CHF12 million.


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